Today is the anniversary of one of America’s greatest tragedies, the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, which took the lives of nearly 3,000 people and caused the physical, mental and emotional suffering of thousands more. And even the rest of us who did not personally know someone who died in the attacks or witnessed it personally were greatly affected. We realized on that day how little control we have over our lives and how quickly things can change. We might have an illusion that we can protect ourselves and keep our loved ones safe, but the reality is, there’s only one safe place, and it’s not a physical refuge, but a Person.
Job is learning this lesson as we progress through his story. Today’s read of chapters 11-15 give us Zophar’s first attempt at “setting Job straight,” and Job’s response. Zophar’s words are short; he reminds Job that no one can fathom the mysteries of God or discover His limits. He also believes that this suffering is because God sees some form of deceit in Job and that all he must do is put away that sin and everything will turn out okay. In his words, “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.”
Job’s response begins with a little sarcasm. We know he’s in great physical pain, so let’s give him a little grace. He isn’t satisfied with Zophar’s easy-fix platitudes. He tells him, “Doubtless…wisdom will die with you! … Who does not know all these things?” We can almost see him rolling his eyes. He knows quite well that God is beyond understanding and then makes a statement that might step on our toes: “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.” (12:5)
In other words, when things are going well for us, we can easily find ourselves looking down on those in misfortune, who are “clearly suffering what they deserve.” We make judgments based on appearance. We assume. We draw conclusions without knowing the whole picture. Don’t believe it? What was your first thought the last time you passed that person on the side of a busy intersection, holding a sign asking for help? Ouch. Job, you’re getting too personal!
Job has never denied that there might be something in his heart or mind that is offensive to God. He is not frustrated with God. He is not even questioning that God has the right to bring suffering into the lives of any of those He has created (12:10). He simply wants the opportunity to (in his words) “present his case” and hear God’s answer, because right now, God is silent. His prayers seem to be unanswered.
Two takeaways for us. One, we must remain faithful even when we don’t have the answers we want, or we feel that God is deliberately leaving us in the dark for unknown reasons. We trust God like Job, who declares in 13:15, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will argue my ways before Him.” Second, we must be careful not to assume and make judgments on others’ lives. We will never have God’s full perspective or knowledge about a situation, and we don’t know what it is a person’s heart, or what events might have led to their current circumstance. Instead of empty platitudes, let’s have a merciful attitude, and pray for God to relieve their suffering. Let’s be willing to act if it’s in our power and God makes it clear that we have a role to play in that person’s life.